Women Composers You Should Know About: Part Two

This Women’s History Month, we honor women of the past and present and acknowledge not only their accomplishments but also their struggles and hard work to attain sometimes the barest recognition from society.
The vast sheet music collection of Johnson String Instrument includes music by countless other past and present women composers, all available for purchase.

Credit: Kuandi Photos

CHEN YI 陳怡 (b. April 4, 1953) is an award-winning Chinese composer and violinist. As a young musician, Chen’s European-influenced education was cut short by the Cultural Revolution. She practiced in secret, before being sent to perform hard labor at a commune, where she became exposed to Chinese folk culture. When she returned to her hometown of Guangzhou at 17, she became concertmaster of the Beijing Opera Troupe. She became the first woman to receive a M.A. in composition from Beijing’s Central Conservatory for the Arts. Her music has been played by such artists as Yo-Yo Ma, Yehudi Menuhin, and Evelyn Glennie. As in Memory for Solo Cello, Chen blends Western classical elements with Chinese folksong.

AUGUSTA READ THOMAS (b. April 24, 1964) is a prominent American composer. Her music has been performed by Mstislav Rostropovich and played under the baton of Pierre Boulez. She has held teaching positions at the Eastman School of Music, Northwestern University, and the University of Chicago. Though her music is thoroughly notated, it has been characterized as organic and free, and described in her own words as “captured improvisation”. Her work Silent Moon for Violin and Viola embodies this style, with numerous passages containing rubato, cadenzas, and advanced rhythms.

Hear Augusta Read Thomas discuss her work in a May 2018 interview with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra
Photo © Bernie Mindich

JOAN TOWER (b. September 6, 1938) is one of the most successful American composers today. Her music developed in the serialist tradition started by Schoenberg, before branching out into a more impressionist sound. She became the first woman to win the prestigious Grawemeyer  Award for her work Silver Ladders, and has won three Grammy Awards for her album “Made in America”. She is perhaps most renowned for her set of Fanfares for the Uncommon Woman. Her solo violin work Second String Force is an advanced work with visceral energy and technical challenges.

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Copyright © 2019 · All Rights Reserved · Nate Faro

Women Composers You Should Know About: Part One

This Women’s History Month, we honor women of the past and present by acknowledging their accomplishments, struggles and hard work to attain sometimes the barest recognition from society. Women composers are particularly absent from the spotlight; however, they have gained increased visibility in recent years. New Hampshire-born Amy Beach is perhaps the most prominent female composer in American history. She enjoyed a fair amount of recognition by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in her lifetime.

Our sheet music collection at Johnson String Instrument includes music by countless other past and present women composers. Below is our first installment exploring these pioneering women and their exciting compositions.

Rebecca Clarke

REBECCA CLARKE (August 27, 1886 – October 13, 1979) was an English composer and violist. Forced on to the streets by her father at age 20, Clarke supported herself as a performer and became one of the first female professional violists, in chamber and orchestral settings alike. Her compositions are known for their lyricism, lush harmonies, and intense emotion. She faced numerous difficulties as a female composer, and her work was largely forgotten at the end of her life. Today, interest in her music has soared. The Viola Sonata from 1919 is her best-known work and a gem of the viola repertoire, its bold opening melody instantly recognizable.

Adriana Figueroa Mañas

ADRIANA FIGUEROA MAÑAS (b. October 19, 1966) has enjoyed performances of works on four continents. She is a member of the International Alliance of Women in Music, as well as the Argentinian Foundation of Woman Composers. She also plays flute and is the saxophonist in the West Jazz Band of Mendoza. Her colorful compositions, such as Tres Piezas en Clave de Tango, evoke the music of her native Argentina.

Grazyna Bacewicz

GRAZYNA BACEWICZ (February 5, 1909 – January 17, 1969) was a prominent Polish composer and violinist. As a student in Paris, she studied composition with Nadia Boulanger and violin with Carl Flesch. She became the concertmaster of the Polish Radio Orchestra in 1936. During World War II, she lived in Warsaw, where she gave secret underground concerts featuring her music. Her violin-centric works display interest in folksong and show the modernist influence of Bartók. Her Concertino for Violin and Piano is a fantastic student-level work of intermediate difficulty.

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Copyright © 2019 · All Rights Reserved · Nate Faro

Electric Violins: Preamps

This post is part of a series. Read our previous posts for more information about electric violins, amps and pickups.

Do I need a preamplifier for my electric violin?

Short answer: Yes. A preamplifier, or preamp, is key to getting a great tone out of an electric violin, viola or cello.

Long answer: We need to get technical.

The electric string instruments and pickups we stock at Johnson String Instrument all use variations of piezo electric sensors (piezo for short). Piezo pickups work differently than the magnetic pickups found on electric guitars; instead of sensing a string’s vibration, a piezo pickup senses an instrument’s vibration.

Piezos work best under pressure, which is why these pickup systems are usually found in or beneath the bridge of an instrument. As the instrument vibrates, the piezo generates an electrical signal that can be amplified. However, piezos have ultra high impedance outputs. In order to maximize the frequency response and tone of a piezo pickup, you must match it to an ultra high impedance input. This is what a preamp does: it buffers the impedance of your signal, making it fuller and stronger.

Why is this important? Most amplifiers and accessories on the market are designed for electric guitars and their impedance, not electric violin. Plugging a passive electric violin directly into an electric guitar amp will work, but the sound you get may not be what you were expecting.

Do I need to buy a preamp?

That depends on your setup. Many electric instruments already have on-board preamps that take care of this impedance mismatch. These instruments are what is called “active” and typically require batteries. “Passive” systems do not require batteries.  An external preamp is highly recommended with these piezo systems. The chart below shows products we carry and which category they fall into:

These passive pickup systems all produce a very strong signal so a preamp is not mandatory. However, we highly recommend a preamp to maximize your instrument’s amplified tone.

The benefits of external preamps go beyond impedance matching; all have XLR outputs, allowing you to connect easily to a PA system. This is a major time saver when playing live. When you connect to a PA, you  do not have to leave your tone up to the sound guy; most preamps feature tone-shaping EQ controls. Many preamps on the market also have boost functions, allowing you to boost your volume by a few decibels when you are ready for a solo or need help cutting through the mix.

NEXT: watch for our Preamp Buying Guide to find out which preamp is right for you.

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Copyright © 2017 · All Rights Reserved · Alex Wagner

The 2016 Holiday Gift Guide

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Our annual Holiday Sale is back, and so is our Holiday Gift Guide! This year, we have a mix of exciting new products as well as old favorites for musicians of all levels and ages.

Electric Violins

JSI Companion

JSI EV-4 Companion Outfit in red. ON SALE $320.00

JSI EV-4 Companion Outfit in red, ON SALE $320.00

Our brand for electrics, this instrument is a great option for those getting started with electric violin. An outfit comes with the instrument in one of five colors, bow, case and headphones.

Yamaha YEV

Yamaha YEV-104 Black Electric Violin Outfit ON SALE $696.00

Yamaha YEV-104 Black Electric Violin , $595.00

Winner of Best in Show at the 2016 NAMM conference! This innovative instrument can be purchased with four or five strings in two different colors. The outfit includes the instrument, bow, case, cable and rosin.

We haven’t forgotten about you viola, cello and bass players! See all of our electric instruments currently on sale on our website.

Galaxy Cases

Galaxy 300SL Comet Violin Case in green ON SALE $337.00

Galaxy 300SL Comet Green Violin Case, ON SALE $337.00

A newer, lighter case makes a great gift! This JSI exclusive, both durable and light, is a great option. Available for violin, viola and cello in nine different colors!

Ukulele

Cordoba 20SM Soprano Ukulele $149.00

Cordoba 20SM Soprano Ukulele, $149.00

Check out why the ukulele is such a great instrument in our blog post and give someone the gift of this versatile instrument this holiday season. There are four types to choose from: soprano, concert, baritone and tenor. May we also suggest this book to help them get started?

Children’s Books

These books are great holiday gifts for young musicians! Some of our favorites are:

Berlioz the Bear

Berlioz the Bear, written and illustrated by Jan Brett

Berlioz the Bear, written and illustrated by Jan Brett, $6.99

“Berlioz and his orchestra are scheduled to perform at a gala ball in the village square. But just before showtime, their bandwagon becomes stuck in the road. Whatever will they do?”

Zin, Zin, Zin, A Violin!

Zin! Zin! Zin! a Violin

Zin! Zin! Zin! a Violin by Lloyd Moss, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman, $7.99

A Caldecott Honor book, this classic is a great introduction to the orchestra. Intended for ages 4-8.

The Philharmonic Gets Dressed

The Philharmonic Gets Dressed by Karla Kuskin, Illustrated by Marc Simont $6.99

The Philharmonic Gets Dressed by Karla Kuskin, Illustrated by Marc Simont, $6.99

“It is Friday evening. The sky is getting darker and darker. Here and there, all around the city, one hundred and five people are getting ready to go to work. Some of them take showers, others bathe. Some shave or trim their mustaches, others put on dusting powder and a little jewelry. Then they all get into special black and white clothes and travel to midtown with their instruments. There, at 8:30, they will work together–playing beautiful music in an orchestra.” Intended for ages 4-8.

Stocking Stuffers

Magic Rosin

Magic Rosin Bach Manuscript 3G $16.00

Magic Rosin Bach Manuscript 3G, $16.00

Not only is this rosin available with a Bach manuscript, it’s also available in GLOW-IN-THE-DARK!

Rockin’ Rosin

Rockin' Rosin Frog ON SALE $9.95

Rockin’ Rosin Frog, ON SALE $9.95

This fun rosin is available in six different shapes including frog, snowman and even pizza!

Overscore Tape

Overscore Removable Manuscript Tape $8.00

Overscore Removable Manuscript Tape, $8.00

The tool you never knew you needed: REMOVABLE manuscript tape!

You can find even more stocking-stuffer ideas here.

Don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter to get our exclusive December Deals December 12-18th and for even more savings.

Happy Holidays from all of us at Johnson String!


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Copyright © 2016 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

Back to School: First-Time Players

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It’s that time of year again!

Is your child starting an instrument this school year? Not sure what they need? Whether they are taking lessons through their school or elsewhere, their teacher will have a list of what they require for their students. However, we can also give you a basic list of what your child will need to succeed:

Back to School Blog Instruments Subheader

Where are you getting your instrument? For a child just starting lessons, many families choose to rent. This is a great way to have access to a high-quality instrument without the financial commitment of purchasing one. All of our rental outfits come with an instrument, bow, case, and rosin. They also come with insurance, which includes things like broken strings, accidental damage, and size exchanges. Check out the video below to learn more about our well-respected rental program:

Not interested in renting? Buying is also a great option! When shopping, make sure that the shop you buy your instrument at has a trade-in program. Keep in mind that most children are not going to start out in a full size instrument; they will need something smaller and will change sizes as they grow. Our sales department at Carriage House Violins has a trade-up program that allows you to trade any instrument or bow purchased with us for another of equal or greater value. Keep in mind that if you buy an instrument, you will be responsible for the cost of repairs and strings.

**A note about instrument shopping and rentals: Always work with a reputable shop. You may notice lower prices on sites like Amazon or eBay. To learn an instrument, you need something that is high enough quality that it works with your child, not against them. Quality can’t be guaranteed on sites like these, but it can at shops like Johnson String Instrument whether you choose rent or buy. 

Back to School Blog Books Subheader

Almost all programs require a beginning method book. Your child’s teacher will tell you which one they use. Make sure to pay attention to the edition they ask for; a lot of publishers make significant changes between editions and group classes all use the same book. You can find our full selection of method books here.

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No matter which instrument your child chooses, you’ll need something to help stabilize it. For violin and viola, this is a shoulder rest. For cello and bass, it’s an endpin rest. Both help the player hold the instrument and promote good technique. Talk to your child’s teacher about their preference.

Back to School Blog Music Stands Subheader

Some teachers list music stands as optional, but they are important. Like a podium for a public speaker, it puts the music at a comfortable level and angle. You don’t need anything fancy – our JSI folding stand will do the trick! It comes in a wide variety of colors and is easily carried and stored. We also carry other models and non-folding stands here.

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These things required but highly recommended for players of any age:

  1. Metronome/Tuner: You can find some great apps that do the same thing, but sometimes a dedicated device just works better. Available as individual products or combos, we carry all major brands and models.
  2. Practice Planner: These are great for tracking practicing, recording assignments, assessing progress, and all-around organization.
  3. Flashcards: These are a great tool for beginners. They are available for all instruments in different positions as well as for general music.

Don’t forget: Your child’s teacher is your greatest resource! They will tell you exactly what they want their students to have. If your child is taking lessons locally, many school districts and teachers have arrangements with us to have a rental night where you can pick up all of these supplies at school in your area.

We hope everyone has a great start to the school year!

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Copyright © 2016 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

What is Instrument Insurance?

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Instrument insurance is an important part of caring for your instrument. Professionals use it regardless of their genre and music shops have it to protect their inventory. Whether you recently bought an instrument or own one that isn’t already insured, we highly recommend purchasing a policy to help protect your investment.

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It’s exactly what it sounds like: an insurance policy with specific coverage for your instrument(s). It usually takes the form of either:

  1. A rider on your current renter’s or homeowner’s policy, or
  2. A separate policy through a company that specializes in insuring musical instruments

Insurance Why Should Subheader

Any insurance policy is about financial protection should damage or theft occur in the future and instrument insurance is no different. It is designed to protect you against things like theft, accidental damage, and devaluation. Always check with the insurance provider about specific coverage questions, but most companies will cover common problems that can happen with musical instruments.

Insurance Options Subheader

Rider: This something you can add to a preexisting renter’s or homeowner’s insurance policy. This is a great option if you are not a professional musician but still want protection for your instrument. Be sure to ask about the kind of coverage a rider has with your current insurance company before adding anything.

Separate Policy: If you use your instrument professionally, this is what you will need. The main companies used by most musicians and shops in no particular order are:

  1. Heritage Insurance Services, Inc. 
  2. Clarion Associates, Inc.
  3. Huntington T. Block Insurance Agency, Inc. (formerly known as Merz-Huber)
  4. Traveler’s Insurance (they have a valuable items policy that includes musical instruments)
  5. Total Dollar Insurance

The benefit of these companies is that they understand the specific nuances of musical instruments and their value. It’s also a good option if you have multiple instruments, a lot of equipment, or travel frequently.

Insurance Policy Subheader

You will need a couple of things before you start looking:

  1. A list of items you need to insure. Many companies will insure everything from instruments to electrical and recording equipment, sheet music, and cases but always ask the company what is and is not covered first.
  2. Up-to-date appraisals for all of your instruments and bows.

Once you have this information, start shopping! Talk to the companies you are considering about any concerns and ask what they specifically cover in their policies. Make sure to compare deductibles as well as rates. For example, if you have a $1,500 instrument and the deductible is $1,000, that policy may not be your best option. Get quotes from everyone you are thinking of using, decide what will work best for you, and enjoy the piece of mind that comes with knowing your instruments are protected.

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Copyright © 2016 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons